Last fall ESSENCE teamed up with national civic engagement group Black Women’s Roundtable to conduct a survey on the topics most important to African-American women in the upcoming presidential election. According to 1,862 respondents, the top five issues are affordable health care, college costs, quality public education, criminal justice reform and living wage jobs. We tapped our political experts to weigh in on a particular concern and give their picks on the candidate they think is most likely to come through for Black women.
DONNA BRAZILE: AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE
The contrast between the parties couldn’t be any starker than on the issue of affordable health care. Because all the Republican candidates want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, they have effectively eliminated themselves from this category. All the Democratic candidates want to retain and expand Obamacare. Hillary Clinton has a long record of fighting for health care reform, but the candidate with the best plan for health care going forward is Bernie Sanders. For the immediate future, Sanders has an aggressive and multi pronged approach to lowering prescription drug costs, including importing drugs from Canada and closing the Medicare Part D loophole, which is particularly troublesome for African- Americans. In the long run, Sanders makes no bones about the fact that his goal is to expand Medicare for all, which would provide medical coverage to the 21 percent of African-Americans under 65 who currently lack it.
Donna Brazile is a veteran Democratic political strategist, adjunct professor, author and syndicated columnist.
ZERLINA MAXWELL: COLLEGE COSTS
As of October 2014, more than 1.8 million Black women are enrolled in college, and Clinton’s New College Compact initiative promises that higher ed costs won’t create a barrier and that students won’t be burdened with sizable loans after graduation. Clinton has said, “We need to make a quality education affordable and available to everyone willing to work for it, without saddling them with decades of debt.” The message will resonate with Black women who are working to advance their careers and lives but who are held back by crushing debt that keeps them stuck in the cycle of economic hardship.
Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst, speaker and writer.
MIDWIN CHARLES: QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION
Clinton plans to double the investment in Early Head Start and to expand early access by providing federal funding to states that offer preschool for 4-year-olds. She supports measuring student achievement through standardized testing, yet recognizes the need for balance between test preparation and traditional pedagogy. The former secretary of state is especially focused on ensuring resources and programs for students with disabilities. While Sanders and Martin O’Malley have plans to address these issues, the costs to implement their plans will increase taxes.
Midwin Charles is the founder of the law firm Midwin Charles & Associates, LLC and a frequent TV commentator.
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TARA WALL: CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Chris Christie may struggle to find his footing among this crop of Republicans, but he is the quintessential candidate. Like Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, the New Jersey governor gets it. They all have a strong track record with minority constituents, don’t pander, put a priority on important social issues and make no apologies to the establishment when advocating for policies that lift people up. However, it’s Christie’s stance on criminal justice reform that sets him apart. It includes a community-policing model that has worked to establish trust and reduce crime; the expansion of prisoner reentry and inmate education/job training; commonsense bail reform for nonviolent offenders; and “ban the box” efforts to address ex-offender stigma in the workforce. “I care too much about this to give you the quick fixes,” Christie has said. “Justice isn’t something that we can jail our way to; justice is something we have to build together in our communities.” His sensible approach to education reform, economic freedom, affordable health care and job creation strikes a similar tone. It’s no wonder he enjoys a whopping 36 percent support among Black voters. “He has a broad view for all Americans. He’s not afraid to challenge his party. He has the ability to truly listen to what the American people have to say,” says Deborah J. Evans, a 50-year-old mom from Detroit and registered Democrat. Evans thinks Christie is the kind of Republican she could cross the aisle for. And in at least one poll, the Republican comes out on top in a hypothetical matchup against Clinton.
Tara Wall is a filmmaker and former senior media adviser to three Republican presidential campaigns.
APRIL RYAN: LIVING WAGE JOBS
Pocketbook issues are critical for African-American women, says Melanie Campbell, convener of Black Women’s Roundtable. Hilary O. Shelton, senior vice-president for advocacy and policy for the NAACP and director of its Washington Bureau, points out that the living wage is directly linked to raising the minimum wage. The call is to increase the current federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15, which Republicans say is bad for business. Clinton wants a wage hike to $12 but supports a fight for $15. Sanders and O’Malley are proposing to up the rate to $15. Melba Wilson, owner of Melba’s Restaurant in Harlem, says she speaks with many small-business owners about how these political issues will impact their restaurants. Wilson tells ESSENCE, “For me, it’s less about a candidate’s position on one issue and more about ensuring that the next president balances supporting workers and business owners on many issues. As a Black woman business owner, I want to employ and create opportunities for other women like me, so I want a president who will support my vision, not get in its way.” It’s a tight race on the Democratic side, but Sanders is the choice on this matter.
April Ryan is an author, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief at American Urban Radio Networks.